Amateur hour at the Israeli Foreign Ministry

All things considered, Israeli officials seem relatively happy with the diplomatic support they've been getting from the Obama administration, and have taken to the phones to express their appreciation for U.S. help in batting back a Turkish-led bid to censure Israel via the U.N. Security Council.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, however, has taken a different tack. He apparently called U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- who has little to do with the content or politics of Security Council debates -- this morning to complain about yesterday's emergency session and what he sees as the U.N.'s unfair treatment of Israel. Trouble is, his ministry erroneously calls the presidential statement issued in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday a "resolution" in a readout posted on the ministry's website -- twice:

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman spoke today (Tuesday, 1 June 2010) with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon following the UN Security Council resolution of this morning. FM Liberman stated that the hypocrisy and double standards taking root in the international community regarding Israel are to be regretted. [...]

FM Liberman stated that in light of this, the Security Council resolution is unacceptable and contributes nothing to the promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East.

This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but considering that one of the main thrusts of Israeli and U.S. diplomacy over the past 24 hours was ensuring that there was no resolution, it's an embarrassing mistake. And it shows, I think, the extent to which the Netanyahu administration -- which does employ some very effective people, such as Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren -- has been hobbled by inept diplomats since its first days in office.

In another brilliant move, Lieberman's deputy, Danny Ayalon, was among the first Israeli officials to speak out about the flotilla deaths -- even though was the one who infuriated the Turks last year when he deliberately humiliated Ankara's envoy by sitting him in a smaller chair and dressing him down in Hebrew in front of the Israeli media.

Israel seems to have rallied a bit since yesterday morning, but only, it seems, but shoving the Foreign Ministry aside and letting the professionals do the work.


The economics of the World Cup

Goldman Sachs may have taken a lot of heat lately, but they may have done themselves a great favor by releasing their 2010 World Cup Research Report earlier this month. Running a little over 70 pages, it's a remarkably in-depth summary of each country in this year's finals, including football prowess, economic state, and political situation. Furthermore, it provides a primer on the potential hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and, unsurprisingly but more than interesting, an examination of economic growth and decline vis-a-vis the international football teams of respective countries.

Some of the most noteworthy things to take away: like most of the speculation has focused on, the report predicts a European-hosted cup in 2018, and a return to the U.S. in 2022. (Also included are bid pitches from Russia, England, and the U.S.) Interestingly, this is what it says about the U.S. bid:

The sport has taken roots in the USA and the market is quickly becoming one of FIFA’s most important. They already pay one of the largest television rights fees to FIFA of any country. However, the perception is still otherwise.

For U.S. soccer fans, that perception is extremely frustrating. It is somewhat accurate: for a team that has qualified for the last six World Cups (granted, a Foreign Policy* staff team could probably qualify for the finals out of the Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football -- CONCACAF), interest would appear to be lower than warranted. (Six out of six is, by the way, quite impressive: England, France, and the Netherlands can't claim that streak.)

But that's changing. Go to many bars in the District on Saturday or Sunday morning, and you'll see European football -- usually the English Premier League -- on the TV. From my own observations (be wary of perception bias), the sport with the most jerseys worn on the streets of Northern Virginia and D.C. is soccer, by far. Moreover, 24.5 million Americans play football, the second most  (behind China's 26.2 million) in the world. Since 1994, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. soccer fans, but among casual or non-fans, there still remains an idea that soccer is not an "American" sport. (It should also be noted that the U.S. Women's team is the dominant global powerhouse.)

UEFA's (Union of European Football Associations) selection of the 2012 Euro Cup host proved prescient, as well. Picking in 2007, Poland won the rights to host the tournament (OK, co-host with Ukraine, but since then UEFA has suggested Poland be the sole host, which the Poles have graciously declined to accept). Poland, however, was the only bid country that hasn't suffered economic decline since -- and yes, Greece was the first bid country eliminated.

Other notable findings: the Growth Environment Scores (a Goldman-devised figure of sustainable economic growth and productivity) of respective countries loosely correlate to soccer performance, but a much stronger connection exists between the improvement of economic conditions and national soccer teams. (Algeria, which did not qualify for the 2006 finals in Germany, posted the highest GES improvement among developing countries over the last four years.) The report also argues that success is partially dependent on the number of males aged 18-34 in countries, and provides a UN chart with predictions for 2050. If the claim is accurate, the Nigerian Super Eagles are going to be really, really good in a few decades.

Lastly, Goldman offers their own predictions of the semi-finals (I won't spoil, though I will say it's what my predictions are as well), and lists the probability (with their metrics) that each country will become World Cup champions.

It's lengthy, but an extremely interesting read, and provides the best rundown of the Cup to come that I've seen. Check it out.

*No matter what anyone says, I'd play right wing.